Representations of dying in contemporary visual culture and the ethics of spectatorship

Horne, John Edward (2013). Representations of dying in contemporary visual culture and the ethics of spectatorship. University of Birmingham. M.Phil.

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This thesis is about the dying individual. The institutionalisation of death in the West has led to increasing public unfamiliarity with the actualities and banalities of dying. Accordingly, this thesis is concerned with the place where the dying individual is most commonly encountered: visual culture. How is the dying individual seen and screened? What structures are at play in their framing? And what is the spectator’s ethical relationship with – and moreover, responsibility towards – the dying individual?

The introduction looks at imagery of dying which is used to “shock”. I then examine how, over the past century, “dying has been pushed further and further out of the perceptual world of the living” (Benjamin, 1936/2007), before turning to the use of visual culture in national health projects which seek to return the dying individual to the communal fold. I identify problems, which in turn open up new possibilities for spectatorship as an act of active citizenship and solidarity. The last two chapters consider how to foster public solidarity with the dying individual in visual culture. Through photography, then film, I examine texts which unsettle the status quo and help lay the foundations for an ethics of spectatorship in the encounter with the dying individual.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.Phil.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.Phil.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general


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